Aug 15, 2017

Do This, Not That: Letters of Reference

Letters of Reference (LOR) provide the Admissions Committee with additional insight into your career success, your potential, and your personal and professional strengths and weaknesses. It’s common for applicants to think that this is an area of the application in which they have very little control, but that’s not true. Read on for some things you should do, and some others that you should not…


  • Choose someone who has worked with you closely and is capable of commenting on your professional, leadership, and intellectual capabilities. The most useful evaluations are from people who are able to speak with certainty about your leadership, maturity, team orientation, analytical skills, and interpersonal skills. We strongly prefer at least one of your LORs to come from a direct supervisor.
  • If you don’t want your supervisor to know you’re applying to business school and therefore aren’t asking them for a letter of reference, a previous direct supervisor, indirect supervisor, client, senior colleague or contact from an extracurricular organization are good options.
  • This is not uncommon, but if you’re not providing an LOR from your supervisor, we suggest you include an explanation in an optional essay so we don’t assume that it’s because you don’t have a good working relationship with him/her.
  • A previous supervisor, client, senior colleague, or contact from an extracurricular organization are great choices for your second Letter of Reference, too. (If you previously worked at another organization for a significant amount of time and do NOT have a reference from them, that could seem questionable as well.)
  • Ask your potential recommender these two questions: 1) Are you willing to write a positive recommendation for me? and 2) Do you have the time to write a detailed recommendation? If his/her answer to either of these questions is “no,” you should find someone else.
  • Prepare your references. Take them out for coffee, or find some time to talk about your goals and rationale for getting an MBA. Also remind them of your recent performance reviews, and talk about significant accomplishments. This will help them write a more compelling evaluation because they will have specific examples to use in support of their comments.
  • Encourage detailed examples. Letters that are brief and simply state strong feelings without examples to support the comments are not very helpful—regardless of whether those feelings are postive or negative.
  • It should go without saying, but be sure to give your recommender plenty of time to complete the letter by the school’s deadline. If Tuck receives your LORs after the deadline, your application will not be considered until the next round. It is your responsibility to make sure that your evaluators are aware of the deadlines.
  • Be sure to thank your recommender—profusely! Writing these letters takes a lot of work, particularly if you're applying to several schools. Show your appreciation.


  • Your recommender doesn’t need to be the CEO or head of the company, especially if he/she has had little direct contact or interaction with you. It's more important to have someone who has worked with you directly than someone with an impressive title.
  • We do not recommend asking family or friends to write your LORs. If you work for a family business and your supervisor is a parent (or an aunt, or an uncle, etc.), we suggest asking a client, customer, or non-family member in the organization to write a letter for you instead.
  • We also do not recommend asking a professor to write the recommendation. We will know how you performed in the class from your grades, and professors aren’t usually in a position to provide insight into the areas we're most interested in learning about.
  • We want an honest assessment of your skills. Occasionally, we’ll hear that a recommender asks the applicant to write the letter for them and then will sign their name to it. If this happens to you, you need to find someone else. Not only is it not helpful for the Admissions Committee, it’s wrong. Tuck is proud to operate under an honor code and writing your own LOR would be a direct violation.
  • You shouldn’t even be translating the letter into English for your reference. If they are not able to complete the LOR in English, he or she should write it in their native language and have it translated by an outside translation service.
  • Make sure that your recommender is completing the Tuck LOR form and not just submitting a generic letter. We ask these questions for a reason and want to be sure we’re getting the information we need.